Army Aviators embrace future of learning
July 11, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 11, 2013) -- In keeping with the standard of being the world's most-adaptive military, the home of Army Aviation is embracing changes in modern technology.
"We are issuing convertible notebooks to all of the students here at Fort Rucker to get them used to the Army goal of having a global net-centric workforce," said Carley Palo, information and technology systems officer at 1st Aviation Brigade.
She added that nearly all students assigned to Fort Rucker for unclassified training, including flight school, advanced individual training and the captains' career course, are issued notebooks before the start of their respective courses.
The handwriting-recognition and touch-screen capable notebook computers are a part of the modernization of Army Aviation. The distribution the of notebook computers is in keeping with a long-term plan to be more adaptive as a force.
The Army Learning Model 2015 describes the deliberate actions and concepts to train Soldiers. The ALM 2015 changes the Army's individual learning methods and processes from a platform-centric, place-dependent model to one that is adaptable.
As Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, Fort Jackson Commanding General, wrote in a March 2013 essay, "ALM is learner-centric, more engaging, relevant, rigorous and accessible for a generation of recruits who have grown up in a digital world, as well as seasoned Army professionals with repeated deployments who bring a wealth of experience to the learning system."
"We are creating an environment where products are no longer strapped to one computer," said David Arnold, a Department of the Army civilian instructor pilot who helps manage digital content.
Arnold explained that because of standardized imaging across the issued computers, properly credentialed students can access whatever data and publications they need for various courses of instruction here.
"We've made a large migration of the common data products used at the flight line to the AKO environment," said Arnold. AKO, which stands for Army Knowledge Online, is the U.S. Army's intranet, which is used for digital content and document management.
The benefit of having entire content libraries available wherever students go takes a bit of weight off flight students -- literally.
"You are leaving your 25-pound book bag in the corner and picking up your six-pound notebook and going anywhere you want," said Arnold.
Students attending flight training have traditionally been issued boxes with the necessary publications and study material required to complete a course of instruction. The issued laptops are preloaded with most of these documents, plus the software needed to complete courses. This software includes like the Aviation Mission Planning System, which is used by all Army Aviators to plan missions. Any documents not preloaded onto the laptops are available via AKO.
"No longer are (students) tethered to a particular computer or a particular classroom," said Arnold. "They carry (the notebooks) with them. No matter where they're at, they have the choice on when they are going to invest their time to improve their skills. Ultimately, we've increased the amount of contact time an individual has with their learning materials."
Working to realize the current digital state of learning began about 15 years ago, said Palo. Since then, the Army has worked to increase its use of technology by individual Soldiers.
A little more than two years ago, Palo said the 1st AB began looking at different methods to assist flight students in grasping the information they needed to learn using available technology.
She said the brigade tested tablets and E-readers in the past. Those tests were met with less-than-ideal results because the technology couldn't support needs of students in the different outdoor environments or the devices were difficult to maintain with the latest software. Some of the tablets were eventually donated to the Fort Rucker Primary School.
The current technology used supports the various demands and updates. One plus for pilots on the flight line is the daylight-viewable screen, she said.
While the use of the most up-to-date technology is nothing new for the Army, Palo said no other Army posts have embraced issuing notebooks like Fort Rucker.
"We are the only ones I'm aware of in the Army who have adopted the technology to this magnitude," said Palo. "If you're here for unclassified training, you get a computer."
She added that the benefits of having portable technology aren't just in a lighter back pack or the freedom to study outside the classroom. Projected savings as a result of not issuing texts to Aviation students is currently at more than $4 million annually.
Even with these savings in a time of fiscal conservatism, Palo concedes that going completely digital won't happen.
"We're never going to completely get rid of paper, but we're going to reduce it by about 90 or 95 percent," said Palo.
An example of a document that is still mandated for printing is the flight information program, commonly known by Aviators as the FLIP, she said. Pilots are required by regulation to carry updated paper copies of this publication in their aircraft.
The future continues to look bright for the future of Army Aviation technology. Palo said she and the other information technology managers on Fort Rucker continue to explore and test different technology solutions to support the warfighter.
"We aren't always going to be connected to the wall," said Palo. "There will be multiple hardware solutions."